I’ve been awful at getting to questions lately.  I keep good questions in a file and always mean to get to them, but sometimes (most of the time) life just doesn’t work according to my plan!  Here’s a good question let’s get to today:

What do you do, or think one should do, if your child really disappoints you or disobeys you? I mean, do you ever find yourself feeling upset and at wits end? And if so, what helps you to get through that time and come out on top? How do you find a balance between being a parent to your child and having good relationships with them, while not becoming ‘the best friend’ or ‘correction officer’? Any advice you can grant me is appreciated, thanks!
This is a great question…and a multi-faceted one.  Here are my thoughts:
What I do when I’m disappointed or when kids disobey and what I think one should do are often quite different, much to my chagrin!  I have inherited many great things from my dad, but one I wish I could wrangle myself out of is the gift of the “guilt trip.”  Ha!  Yes, my kids wish I wasn’t so good at that one too!  But we’ve gotten to the point where they remind me that the guilt trip is coming out, and I’m getting better at holding those things at bay.  
It’s a difficult balance because kids need to know we are disappointed.  The key, in general, is helping them turn behavior around in a more positive way rather than just shaking our heads.  Although that does serve a purpose I must say!  There have been plenty of times my teenager self was put in my place after a good dad-guilt-trip.  I remember coming home after curfew one time to find him sitting in the dark on the little green couch near our entry, a very solemn expression on his face that was wagging from one side to the other, I learned a lesson from that!  And the time he happened to drive past my high school right at the exact time a couple guy friends of mine were having fun with the family van I had driven to school that day.  One was driving, one was “surfing” on the roof (SO dumb but of course, teenagers don’t think too well…), I think I must have been in that van along with some other friends…I vaguely remember the sliding door being propped open and my dad driving up alongside us.  He didn’t say anything…just reached out his hand with that same very ominous expression on his face and said, “Keys.”  When we handed them over, shaking in our boots, he drove off without a word.  I can’t remember how I got home that day, or whether there was a lecture, but I sure remember that was a really dumb thing we did and I never wanted to see that expression from my dad again.
So, let’s backtrack a little, maybe the guilt trip IS the way to go!  In all seriousness though, I think the thing that I just realized in writing those two most memorable ones is that there is power in no words sometimes.  Sometimes no amount of yelling and frustration and slamming doors or pounding on the steering wheel (yes, I’ve done them all) is as powerful as staying calm, letting that child know you expect more of them, and giving it some time.
This is different in some ways with younger children than it is for teenagers, but either way, I think communication is key as an offensive.  Let kids know what’s expected, set out rules and boundaries, and let kids help you think of natural consequences that you follow through with.  That consistency is so important!
So, needless to say, yes, I do find myself feeling upset and at wit’s end.  (I’ve written a few posts about my travels to “Wit’s End” over HERE and HERE.)  I think the best remedy is TIME.  Take a minute to calm yourself, let your children have space to calm themselves, and then discuss and communicate what went wrong.  I love the power of a parent apologizing to their child…I’ve sure had to do that over and over again.  And I think because of that, my kids are getting good at their own apologies.  We all make mistakes, and we’re all in this together.
And I think that (the willingness to apologize and discuss) is what helps find the balance between being a friend and a “correction officer”…getting in the trenches with them and showing your vulnerabilities right along with them.  It is a difficult balance to work with, but it’s worth it a million times over because they go from this:

to this:

to this:

In the blink of an eye. And it’s pretty fun to be able to count them as some of your favorite friends.
These are just a few initial thoughts I wrote early this morning when I couldn’t sleep (man, I’m having trouble sleeping these days!)  I’m sure the mother who asked the question would love other input from out there in the blog world so please join in if you have some things to add!


  1. I love what you said about apologies, and how parents apologizing makes it easier for kids to apologize. I had a great childhood, and great parents, but one of my mother’s weaknesses is never being able to apologize (my dad was very good at this though), which has of course transferred to my siblings and myself. It is incredibly hard for me to apologize, even though I want to (& can psych myself up for it in my head). And I look at my husband’s family, and they are all wonderful at apologies, especially my husband. Anyway, I guess something I’ve realized is that my husband’s family seems to have a much deeper connection because they are able to have those tough conversations, unlike my family. Everything is pretty surface level in mine.
    Just thought I’d share! Thanks for your words!

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. Kids do what they see us do. If we’re real and willing to ask forgiveness, they learn that too. When praying out loud with them before bed at night I try to remember to include, “God, please help me to be a good mom to these three blessings you’ve given me, and please help me when I’m weak. I need you.” I want them to know that I’m wanting to do my best and follow God and lean on Him for help. I’m not perfect.

    My mom was so big on guilt trips that we use to say, “Pack your bags!…we’re going on a guilt trip.” ��) Ha! Maybe that did work well.

  3. I can't remember which of her books or essays it was in, but Brene Brown wrote something about the difference between guilt & shame, and how guilt is healthy but shame is not – and I always try to keep that in mind with my kiddos. SUCH an important distinction!

    Thanks as always for sharing you life & heart wisdom, Shawni! xo

    p.s. I second the comment about you never aging:) Always SO beautiful.

  4. I think that, depending on what he did and said later, those responses your dad had to those particular teenage antics don't qualify as guilt trips. He was calm, timely, and clear, and teenage you left the encounters knowing exactly what you did wrong. YMMV, but I think a guilt "trip" requires purposefully prolonging and extending the feeling of guilt to "make your point" (at whichever point it turns usually into shame and resentment). I think the difference is often whether the discipline comes from a place of hurt "how could you do this?" or love "I care enough about you to set boundaries for your safety".

  5. I agree with the above: there is a big difference between to stern "busted" to a child and guilt/shame. Busted, especially when quietly done is a real life lesson

  6. I have been thinking about this over the last few weeks and it's interesting to read your thoughts on it. One thing I question is whether or not our kids need to know we're disappointed. Worried? Scared? Concerned? Yes, but I'm not so sure voicing our disappointment is a positive thing. I read something Aja Volkman posted on Instagram that got me thinking. In the middle of talking about shame she says, "That’s why judgement is dangerous. Because the moment we express disappointment towards another, they stop listening to who they are and try to become who you think they should be." That is the last thing I want for my kids. Anyway, something to think about.

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